Many women have turned to poetry, one of the most powerful literary forms of self-expression and communication, to articulate their journeys and insights. The Schlesinger Library houses a considerable collection of published poetry, and among our manuscript collections are the papers of an impressive group of American poets whose work is integral to interpreting the lives of women, among them June Jordan, Jean Lunn, Eve Merriam, Honor Moore, Adrienne Rich, May Sarton, Anne Sexton, Jean Valentine, and Ruth Whitman. Poetry also figures in the papers of feminists who published poems in addition to working in other genres, including Judy Chicago, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Julia Ward Howe. June Jordan, the author of a corpus of highly praised poetry, founded the “Poetry for the People” project at the University of California, Berkeley, to teach the writing of poetry in community groups and schools.
In the 1960s, poetry was the chosen medium for many young feminists and political activists who were seeking ways to explore relationships, sexuality and gender, race and ethnicity, patriarchy and power, motherhood, and consciousness in a creative context. Small volumes of poetry that could be self-published or issued inexpensively as chapbooks by small woman-run presses became popular vehicles for women’s voices, ones that could be easily distributed and would circumvent the male-dominated world of formal publishing. Some of these authors continued to write and publish and became recognized poets; but for many others, only one or two slim pamphlets stand as documentation of their participation in the debates and upheavals of their time. We preserve many examples of these publications in the book collections at the Schlesinger.
Some of them are gathered in a special collection, called the Feminist Poetry Collection, that features works by Ai, Alta, Judy Grahn, and Fran Winant, among others. Our book collections include poets of diverse backgrounds; volumes by Paula Gunn Allen, Julia Alvarez, Sandra Cisneros, Lucille Clifton, Rita Dove, Joy Harjo, Maxine Kumin, Winona LaDuke, Mary Oliver, Adrienne Su, and Margaret Walker occupy our shelves.
We continue to develop our poetry collection with the help of the Steeple-Jack Poetry Book Fund, an endowed book fund established by poet Wendy Miller Mnookin ’68. Recent acquisitions made with the Steeple-Jack Fund include Work Week (1977), by Karen Brodine; Some Men (1981), by Ntozake Shange; The Woman of Mongrel Passions and Lesbian Descent (1982), by Germaine Johnson; Word is Movement (1984), by Meridel Le Sueur; Seminary Poems (1991), by the Beat poet Diane Di Prima; Nation of Separation (1993), by Sheila Alson; Beside Myself (2001), by the Berkeley street poet Julia Vinograd; Razor Edges of My Tongue (2002), by Leticia Hernandez-Linares; and Five Feminist Poems (2012) and How Are Your Insides? (2013), poetry zines by Sarah Godfrey.